Nov. 16, 2008
South Bend, Ind. - Playing its first game ever against a Top 25-ranked opponent, USC Upstate showed in the first half that it was capable of hanging in with the nation's top programs. In the end, Notre Dame used a late first half surge to create a cushion at halftime as the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish took a 94-58 victory over the Spartans in the Joyce Center Sunday night.
Upstate fell to 0-2 to start the season. The Spartans travel to Columbia to take on South Carolina Saturday afternoon at 1:00 in a game that will televised on SportSouth. Notre Dame played its season opener Sunday night and improved to 1-0 and increased its home winning streak to 38 games.
For a half, at least, Upstate proved to be game for Notre Dame. The Spartans held leads on two separate occasions and stayed within three points with just under four minutes to play before halftime of the ninth-ranked Irish.
"I thought we played well in the first half," said Upstate head coach Eddie Payne. "We were even in field goals and we were even in rebounds. We turned it over three times in the last minute and a half and that hurt us. We didn't shoot any free throws, but we executed and played well."
Upstate did play well in the first half and Bobby Davis showed he could be a force in his senior year. He and 7-3 center Nick Schneiders scored Upstate's first 14 points as the Spartans' frontcourt players gave Notre Dame all it could handle for the first 10 minutes of the first half. When Davis converted on back-to-back buckets, the last with 12:43 to play in the half, Upstate trailed Notre Dame just 16-14.
When a player other then Davis or Schneiders scored for Upstate it resulted in the Spartans' first lead of the game. De'Marion Gordon, playing just the second game of his collegiate career, sank a three-pointer from the top of the key to give Upstate its first lead, 17-16, with 12:17 to play in the half.
Notre Dame's Tory Jackson sank a pair of free throws to give the Irish the lead back, but Davis' jumper put Upstate back on top at the 11:05 mark. Kyle McAlarney's three-pointer gave Notre Dame a 26-21 lead with 8:22 to play, but Upstate continued to battle and hung tough with the Irish.
Upstate cut the Notre Dame lead to one, 30-29, on Josh Chavis' three-pointer with 5:48 to play and was within three, 34-31, at the 3:38 mark. That's when Notre Dame, and reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody, took control of the game.
Harangody scored five points in the final four minutes, part of a personal 11-point spurt in the final 7:44, to spark Notre Dame. The Irish built an eight-point lead, 41-33, with 1:15 to play before a Spartan turnover led to Luke Zeller's three-pointer at the buzzer as Notre Dame opened an 11-point, 44-33, lead at the half.
"You're never going to play a perfect half, but if you look at our focus and execution, I thought it was a very good first half," said Payne.
Upstate was nearly even with Notre Dame in every statistical category in the first half, except from the free throw line. The Spartans and Irish each made 15 field goals, including three three-pointers each. Upstate trailed Notre Dame by one on the boards, pulling down 16 rebounds to the Irish's 17. However, Notre Dame made 11-of-13 free throws to account for the 11-point lead at halftime. Upstate did not attempt a free throw in the first half.
Notre Dame made a strong push coming out in the second half to put the game away. Harangody converted one of two free throws, chased down the rebound on his miss, and converted a layup coming out of the half to establish the tone. He had 10 points in the first five minutes of the second half as the Irish opened a 59-35 lead with 17:05 to play.
Upstate cut into the lead on back-to-back-to-back three-pointers, two by Uzochukwu, and a jumper from Davis as the Spartans trailed by 17, 63-46, with 13:40 to play. Notre Dame, though pushed the lead to 20 on a three-pointer from Zeller and never allowed the lead to drop below 20 for the rest of the game. The Irish went on for the 94-58 win.
"They are a very good team," said Payne. "Every time we made a mistake, they made us pay for it. We really struggled with managing the game when it got out of hand. Our youth and maturity level really showed."
Upstate did not take a free throw in the first half and it wasn't until the 5:30-mark of the second half that the Spartans stepped to the line. The Spartans finished the game shooting 36.5 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from the three-point arc. Notre Dame shot 50.7 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from behind the arc. The Irish made 19-of-24 free throws to Upstate's 5-of-8 from the charity stripe. Notre Dame also turned it up on the boards, out-rebounding Upstate 28-15 in the second half and finishing with a 45-31 advantage.
Davis led the way for Upstate. He finished with a team-high 14 points to go along with five rebounds, a team-high three assists and two steals. Schneiders added a solid 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Uzochukwu added eight points.
Harangody led all scorers with 30 points and finished with 14 rebounds for the double-double. Zeller added 18 points and five boards, while Zach Hillesland added 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists.